Wadeye is back in the news again, but the rioting is more of the political
brawl variety. This week local elders wrote to the Howard government alleging a
senior government official had told them that if law and order wasn’t restored
and damaged houses repaired, government assistance would end. Oh, and by the
way, send your kids to school every day, or we’ll stop family Centrelink
payments.

Before we get to the stupidity of the demands, it’s worth briefly looking at Wadeye’s spectacular fall from
ministerial grace. How did a community widely touted by government ministers and
bureaucrats as a model of community governance so quickly become
a political pariah?

Prime Minister John Howard visited Wadeye in 2005 and told reporters the children of Wadeye were
“energetic” and “not lethargic”. “I’m no doctor but it tells me something about
their spirit,” Howard said. “It tells me something about nutrition – that they
are being cared for effectively.”

He added that the people of Wadeye had
“demonstrated their firm resolve to turn their community around, not only
working in partnership with government but also by helping
themselves”. High praise indeed. So what has changed? Well, in Wadeye, not much.

Ironically, Howard’s 2005 press conference was actually staged in
the grounds of the very school his officials are now demanding Wadeye children
front up to every day. The school grounds housed Howard and his large entourage
quite comfortably. Unfortunately, they’re a little less able to house Wadeye’s
school population.

On the first day of the 2006 school year, about 450
kids turned up. By the end of the first week, the number had swelled to well
over 600. The problem is, the primary school (there is no high school) has only
been built to house a little over 400 kids. So hundreds of students arrived at
school in the first week with no access to a desk or classroom. Not
surprisingly, school numbers quickly dropped off.

Then there’s the
housing issue, and the law and order problem. The merry-go-round that the Wadeye
community finds itself stuck on goes like this: Government says: “You can’t have
any new housing until you restore law and order.” Wadeye says: “But as part of
the COAG process we asked for extra police resources two years ago. They’ve
never arrived.” Government responds: “Well you can’t have any extra police
because there’s nowhere to house them.” Wadeye: “So build some more houses.”
Government: “We just told you, we’re not building any more houses until law and
order is restored.”

It’s mindless and ridiculous. It’s COAG – the black
‘hole of government’ approach.